Bacteria and viral resistance

This project is investigating whether sex in bacteria can help them get ahead in their arms race with viruses.

Just as humans, bacteria suffer from attack of deadly viruses. Parasitic viruses and their hosts are locked in a continuing arms race: hosts develop resistance against their parasites, and parasites evolve to overcome this resistance and so on and so forth. One prominent mechanism to escape from viruses is sex: when hosts shuffle around their DNA to make new, unique combinations. These might be resistant whereas clonally produced offspring will fall prey to the same parasites as their parents. Bacteria are not entirely clonal, but can exchange DNA as well.

This research project will develop our understanding of bacterial evolution with considerable practical importance. For instance, parasitic bacteria in fish farms are often combated by introducing viruses. However, these may inadvertently select for more ‘sexual’ bacteria that can evolve more rapidly to become virulent and resistant to antibiotics.

This study is funded with support from a NERC New Investigator Grant awarded to Dr Michiel Vos, more information will be made available as it develops.